The distribution of TraceTogether tokens to Singaporeans is meant to jolt the participation rate in national contact tracing efforts to get it closer to the Government's target of 70 per cent, said Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan.
But while Dr Balakrishnan does not have a target number for the tokens that will be manufactured and distributed, he said yesterday that the tokens will work together with the TraceTogether app to achieve this target.
"It's not the number of tokens, it's the participation rate for the TraceTogether programme, because these tokens inter-operate with the apps in the phone as well. So I don't have a target for the tokens. What I would like is to get up to about 70 per cent participation rate, and beyond," said Dr Balakrishnan, without specifying a timeline for this.
At present, the TraceTogether app has about 2.4 million downloads, accounting for around 40 per cent of Singapore's population.
Launched on March 20, TraceTogether leverages short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating app users nearby.
Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to reporters at Jalan Besar Community Club, on the first day of the nationwide distribution of the TraceTogether tokens.
The first batch of TraceTogether tokens was given out to a select group of 10,000 seniors from late June.
Dr Balakrishnan has said previously that the present 40 per cent TraceTogether participation rate is not enough as its effectiveness depends on the number of people participating in the programme.
The higher the number of TraceTogether users, be it via the app or the token, the more effective contact-tracing efforts are.
Responding to further queries about the 70 per cent target, he said that participation depends on making contact tracing accessible.
Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, noted that while Singapore currently has one of the highest contact tracing participation rates in the world, the figure can go even higher.
He pointed out that about 5 per cent of Singapore's population do not have access to smartphones and thus will not be able to download the TraceTogether app, which prompted the Government to develop the TraceTogether token.
"The token really is just part of the overall TraceTogether programme. It works exactly the same way. It identifies proximity for Bluetooth technology," he said.
"It does not track location information, and the data resides, encrypted locally, within the device."
The distribution of the tokens began yesterday at 20 community centres and clubs in Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar.
Each token is registered in the user's name, enabling contact tracers to identify people who have been near a confirmed case.
However, users' names, identification numbers and mobile numbers are not captured in the token, and are stored in a separate system.
If a user becomes infected with Covid-19, the device will need to be physically handed over to the authorities to extract the data needed for contact tracing.
TraceTogether's developers, the Government Technology Agency and the Ministry of Health, say the app is useful when those infected cannot recall who they had been in proximity with for an extended duration.
TraceTogether is among several tech initiatives that the Government is using to combat the transmission of Covid-19.
The Government has also launched SafeEntry, a national digital check-in system that logs the identification numbers and mobile numbers of individuals visiting venues, to aid contact tracing efforts.